NATO says the senior leader of the al-Qaida- and Taliban-allied Haqqani network has been captured in Afghanistan.
The alliance announced Saturday that joint Afghan and coalition security forces captured Haji Mali Khan on Tuesday in Afghanistan’s Paktiya province near the Pakistani border.
A NATO statement says Khan managed Haqqani bases and oversaw operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, moving insurgent forces from Pakistan into Afghanistan to conduct terrorist activity. The alliance called the capture a “significant milestone” in the disruption of the Haqqani network.
NATO says Khan was heavily armed during the operation that led to his capture, but that he surrendered “without incident or resistance.” Khan’s deputy and his bodyguard are among many other insurgents detained in the operation.
The Taliban denied Khan was captured.
U.S. officials have long maintained Haqqani militants attack targets in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region.
NATO described Khan as a “revered elder” of the Haqqani clan, and an uncle of Siraj and Badruddin Haqqani, two of the highest-ranking members of the network.
The coalition says he was an emissary between the late Baitullah Mahsud and top leaders within the Haqqani leadership. Mahsud, who was killed last year, was the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan top leader who supplied foreign fighters to the Taliban and Haqqani networks. Mahsud has been blamed for the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
The former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said last month the Haqqani network is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has blasted Mullen’s comments as a “blame game.” Kayani denied accusations that Pakistan is supporting the Haqqanis or conducting a proxy war in Afghanistan.